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Cecilia Quartet working hard to capitalize on Banff triumph

Cecilia Quartet working hard to capitalize on Banff triumph

Winning a prestigious competition has often been the springboard to an international career. That’s

Winning a prestigious competition has often been the springboard to an international career. That’s especially true for the Cecilia String Quartet, which won the 2010 Banff International String Quartet Competition.

“It was an overwhelming feeling — a dream,” said cellist Rachel Desoer. “That win changed things completely financially and got us management. It changed the game for us.”

The Cecilia will debut Saturday at Emma Willard’s Kiggins Hall as part of the Friends of Chamber Music series.

The quartet, which came together in 2004, is not the same quartet that won the competition or the one that will play on Saturday, Desoer said. At the time, all were students at the University of Toronto. But within two years, only violinist Sarah Nematallah remained. Violist Caitlin Boyle joined in 2006, violinist Min-Jeong Koh joined in 2007 and Desoer joined in 2010 after the Banff win. There was no intent to make it an all-female group.

“It was by accident that it was four women who decided to work together,” Desoer said with a laugh. “There’s no rule against men.”

Cecilia String Quartet

WHERE: Kiggins Hall, 285 Pawling Ave., Troy

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

HOW MUCH: $25, $15

MORE INFO: 273-4843,

Devoting lives to group

Since the group practices four hours a day, six days a week, she’s discovered that the personalities mix not only intimately but have a fascinating dynamic, she said.

“There’s an incredible amount of mutual support and emotional sensitivity,” she said. “I treasure that. Everyone has her own working style but we all have a similar level of commitment. It’s like a marriage. We devote our lives to the group.”

They need to.

Before the competition, the quartet’s annual schedule involved some tours through Canadian organizations and a handful of concerts, and they competed successfully at competitions in Osaka (2008) and Bordeaux (2010) and won Canada’s Galaxie Rising Star Award. With the Banff win, the number of concerts jumped from about three a month to double that this year with a tour of Europe and North America; numerous educational outreach programs for elementary and high schools in North America, Italy and France; and fulfilling a four-CD record contract with ANALEKTA.

Cecilia released its first CD last March of music by Dvorak. The second disc with music of Janacek, Berg and Webern is scheduled for a spring release.

“We give one month to rehearsing our CD,” Desoer said. “It’s very focused.”

The quartet is also ensemble-in-residence at the University of Toronto.

Opening doors

The Banff win is important for other reasons. Held every three years since its founding more than 30 years ago, its mission is to support the winning quartet of any nationality whose members are under 35. The winner receives cash; a CD recording; three years of touring in Europe and North America, which alone is worth more than $150,000; and a set of bows from internationally renowned Canadian bow maker François Malo.

More importantly, it’s the contacts the quartet makes. That’s how a tour with legendary pianist Leon Fleisher came about and why another legendary pianist, Menahem Pressler, consented to play with them this month in Toronto.

“The win really put our name out there,” Desoer said.

Prior to the competition, three judges reviewed recording copies of all quartets who applied and chose 10 quartets to come to Banff to play. During the six days of competition, these quartets, who were from France, Canada, Germany, Russia and the United States, performed five complete works from the classical, romantic and contemporary repertoire and Ana Sokolovic’s commissioned work before seven judges, who were from such quartets as the Juilliard, Alban Berg, Colorado, Tokyo, Takacs and Vermeer, among others.

“Sarah heard all the quartets. I don’t think the others did,” Desoer said.

After all the quartets were heard, the judges selected three to compete in the final round. Even now, the fact that the Cecilia won is a shock, she said.

“It was such an important step,” Desoer said.

Lots to do

The quartet hasn’t had time to sit on its laurels. Each year the number of concerts has mushroomed, with many of them broadcast on more than a dozen international public radio networks, and there are video projects and lots of educational outreach.

There’s little time for solo recitals but there is time to explore new repertoire or new collaborations. These include working with a singer in a Schoenberg quartet, and commissioning composer Ed Harsh to write a piece that they’ll record. The quartet is also interested in exploring themes for their concerts. But for their Troy concert, they’ll stick with familiar and favorite composers: Haydn’s Quartet in F Major, Op. 77, No. 2, whose third movement Boyle was married to; Dvo˘rák’s Quartet in G Major, Op. 106, which they’ve recorded and played in the final at Banff; and Webern’s “Langsamer Satz,” which is new.

There’s lots to do.

“It’s a full-time job,” Desoer said.

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